60s Popeye: Skinned Divers, not a repeat, but does feature a mermaid and a Michigan tourist trap


This is a Jack Kinney cartoon — produced by him and story by him. The animation director is our friend Rudy Larriva again, but otherwise, it’s Jack Kinney’s vision here. Let’s look back at 1960’s Skinned Divers.

There are things I’d like to know about the 60s King Features run of cartoons. One of them is where story ideas came from. Like, did someone at King Features toss out a couple hundred possible story points? There were a couple cartoons based on stories from the comic strip. Maybe some came from the comic book. One was a remake of a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. And here? It’s another skin-diving cartoon.

I looked forward to comparing how Jack Kinney’s skin diving cartoon to Buddy Brutus. That short got reviewed in these pages just a couple weeks ago. Turns outBuddy Brutus was also a Jack Kinney cartoon. So I guess in about 1959 Jack Kinney got into skin-diving and wanted everybody to know. The early joke about how all you need to skin dive is this long list of equipment feels like a new-hobbyist’s joke. We again use the convention that there’s no reason Popeye or Brutus need to come up for air.

As before, Popeye and Brutus come to the same spot to dive. They’re both looking at the complementary treasure-map X. This time they don’t team up. Popeye goes and gets his foot caught in a clam’s mouth. This is exactly the peril promised by Cheboygan, Michigan’s famous 500-Pound Man-Killing Clam. Sea Shell City, with its theoretically killer clam, opened in 1957 and I’m curious whether someone at Jack Kinney Studios knew of the thing. I haven’t had the pleasure, but my love has, and we have a fridge magnet for the site.

In an underwater scene Popeye pulls his foot, trying to free his swim fin from the closed jaw of a large clam. He does not notice an octopus's tentacle reaching from behind him.
The 500-pound clam closing on your feet and keeping you pinned until your air runs out is the hypothetical mechanism by which it would kill you so, good job on this cartoon for depicting the danger. To the best of my knowledge there are no warnings about octopuses in Cheboygan, Michigan. But maybe when it’s safe to go to tourist traps again I’ll be able to report back.

Popeye’s saved from the man-killing clam by an octopus whom he figures likes him. They team up, which will be important. Popeye gets around to eating sea spinach, sure. But it’s the octopus that does more of the fighting. Popeye discovers a treasure, is knocked out by Brutus’s anchor, and is woken — with the splash from a bucket of water — by the mermaid version of Olive Oyl. Getting wet underwater is another joke Kinney relied on in Buddy Brutus. I agree that it’s a good gag. We get to the climactic Popeye-versus-Brutus fight, although the octopus takes on a lot more of the fighting duties. It’s rare to see Popeye with useful allies.

I like this cartoon, even though Popeye ends up the spectator at the end. It’s the octopus who throws Brutus out of the cartoon. It hasn’t got Buddy Brutus’s weirdness, the attitude that decided Atlantis should be an Old West town populated by octopuses. In comparison everything here is motivated beside Olive Oyl having a mermaid twin. And, hey, 500-pound man-killing clam, how can that be anything but exciting?

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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